Post-break-up, Rhonda moved into a new apartment, a cheap but dilapidated one bedroom. The walls were cracked and peeling, the carpet stained and torn. Rhonda, however, was too miserable from her break up to think about interior design. Her only new investments:
Soon Rhonda ignored her new bed, spent all her time and money on this dollhouse, buying it little sofas and petite antique armoires. In the evenings Rhonda would stay in refurbishing her miniature house – wallpapering its petite kitchen and shellacking its tiny living room floor.
Meanwhile, everything else in Rhonda’s own human-sized home was falling apart.
Eventually she bought a little dollhouse family – and I never heard from her again.
After a particularly challenging break up (which I’ve shared about here), I began thinking a lot about Rhonda Rifkin. I started to more fully understand how easy it could be to allow a tough time to harden your heart.
Although I never went so far as to buy a dollhouse, I did similarly begin to avoid the company of people – and prefer to stay home alone – except for the company of my dog Maxine – “my better one-eighth.” Maxine was a nine pound mutt – part Jack Russell Terrier, part Chihuahua, part spiritual healer.
After the break up, I found myself spending many hours alone with Maxine, laying on my bed softlycrying. Maxine would nuzzle up next to me and lick the falling tears from my face.
At the time I wasn’t sure if Maxine was licking my tears out of loving canine support – or because she enjoyed their salty flavor. Such was my state of cynicism – that I became suspicious of the affections of my longtime faithful dog.
I also became suspicious about the inner workings of the universe. I questioned what kind of universe would purposefully create a living, breathing creature called “Total Asshole” and allow this creature to roam our planet, hurting others in its path!
Simultaneously I was determined to push past my cynicism and hopelessness. With this in mind, I began reading as many inspiring books as I could – looking for helpful research studies and motivational stories on how others had bounced back from challenging events.
Below are my top 4 tools which helped me to move on and rise up (excerpted from my Never Again Program).
1. My first tool I developed was starting an “Invisible Blessings Journal.” I developed this tool after reading research studies by Professor Richard Lucas, from Michigan State University. Lucas looked at people who had experienced debilitating injuries – who were told they’d never be able to walk again.
Lucas’ studies showed that although at first many folks were mired in cynicism and hopelessness, eventually these people not only returned to their former “happiness set point,” many reported rebounding to a higher-than-usual good mood – becoming happier than they were before their trauma!
Lucas’ explanation: The darkness surrounding a bad event eventually helped people to better notice all the bright good stuff in their life. Basically, after a challenging event, people developed a heightened awareness of what I call “invisible blessings” – all the good stuff we take for granted.
When I read this, I decided to speed up my clarity for the good stuff. I began what I called “My Invisible Blessings Journal.” Each day I’d write down 5 things I was grateful about having in my life. I forced myself to always write 5 new and different things – and eventually amassed quite a long list of invisible blessings.
2. I began meditating – 15 minutes every day. In my reading of inspiring books, I consistently found studies which support how meditation can retrain your brain to be “better wired” for calmness and happiness. I know lots of peopleassume meditation is some Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But it’s truly been scientifically documented to create therapeutic neurological changes.
For example, Dr. Richard Davidson, one of the world’s foremost brain scientists, had the lucky opportunity to test the brain of a Senior Tibetan Lama — a man known for meditating many hours daily. Sure enough Davidson discovered that this Senior Tibetan Lama had an “extreme left-to-right ratio” in his prefrontal cortex — the M.R.I. sign of a happy, relaxed mind.
More Neuroscientific Cliff Notes: Meditation strengthens the neurological circuits which calm the brain — creating a kind of “buffer” between our brain’s violent impulses and our actions. Hence why if you meditate regularly you physically feel less stressful and less aggressive.
With this in mind, I began meditating in the morning, right before I brushed my teeth. On an interesting side note, these two morning habits actually share the same purpose and process – just for different body parts.
Think about it:
3. Another powerful tool: Visualization. In my research, I found many studies which support howrepeated visualization of a happy future can help your brain to lighten up – literally. The aspects of your brain associated with positivity wind up lighting up more in your present when you think positively about your future.
With this in mind, I bought a scheduling book which had a calendared set-up. I wrote on the front “MY HAPPILY EVER AFTER FUTURE.” I created pages for the next 12 months – describing how I envisioned each month unfolding in a joyful, peaceful way. I pre-planned in this 12 month calendar a range of positive steps I could take to move forward to my “happily ever future.” I made sure to make my plans and goals as reasonable as possible. This was amazingly therapeutic for me to envision my life happily unfolding. Basically, this 12 month schedule of recovery allowed me to both hold the vision and embrace the process.
4. In my research I also found that mantras can help. One of my go-to mantras became: “Bitterness is not an option!” I repeated this whenever I felt my heart begin to harden. I also developed a funny mantra: “Every jerk has a silver lining.” I used this mantra to help motivate myself to look for the silver lining benefits to my ex – look for the lessons learned – and growth opportunities gained.
Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.